Preschooler talking and listening: what to expect

Between the ages of three and five years, you might hear lots of talk and questions from your preschooler. This is because preschoolers:

  • need to practise new words, speech sounds and language skills
  • understand that they are their own person
  • are constantly fascinated by the world around them.

Preschoolers communicate through:

  • lots of talk
  • body language like gestures and noises
  • play, particularly make-believe play
  • painting and craft.

When you’re communicating with your preschooler, you’ll notice that he can hold longer conversations and use specific words from his growing vocabulary to say what he means. For example, your child can tell you that he’s upset, instead of having a tantrum. This is also because your preschooler is developing an understanding of his own feelings and other peoples’ feelings.

You might also hear your preschooler telling the same story over and over again. This is because repeating ideas and stories helps preschoolers work out what’s going on in the world around them.

Even though their ability to understand your words has developed a lot, preschoolers still use your facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures to understand things.

Ideas for talking and listening to preschoolers

When you show your child that you’re listening, it sends the message that what your child is thinking and saying is important to you. And this message really builds your relationship with your child.

Here’s how to show your child that you’re listening:

  • Stop what you’re doing andgive your full attention to your child whenever you can.
  • Get down to your child’s level and make eye contact.
  • When your child tells you something, summarise it back to check that you understand what she’s saying.
  • Nod, smile and be affectionate when your child is talking.
  • Try to listen until your child finishes telling a story.
  • Tune in to your child’s body language and behaviour as well as his words. You child’s body language and behaviour can tell you a lot about what he’s trying to communicate. For example, he might be shaking with anger or jumping up and down with delight.
Preschoolers love to tell stories! If you need to stop listening during a long story, let your child know. For example, ‘We’re almost at preschool now. Would you like to finish the story quickly now or tell me the rest later?’

Answering your child’s questions
When you take your child’s questions seriously and take the time to give a real answer,you encourage your child to keep asking questions. This helps your child to learn about the world as she grows and develops.

If you don’t know the answer to your child’s question, you can find out the answer together. For example, you could say ‘That’s a really interesting question – let’s see if we can find out. Can we ask someone we know? Can we look on the internet or find a book at the library?’ This helps to build your child’s research skills so that over time he can find answers himself.

Talking to your child
Your child can use and understand a lot of words, but she still might have trouble understanding what you’re saying sometimes.

Here are some ideas that can help you talk and communicate clearly with your preschooler:

  • Use phrases that show you’re interested. For example, you can say, ‘Really?’, ‘Go on’, or ‘And then what happened?’
  • Try to say exactly what you mean. Your child might not understand jokes, exaggeration or sarcasm and you might hurt his feelings.
  • If your child can’t understand what you’re saying repeat the same message in a couple of different ways. For example, ‘Put your bag on the hook’, or ‘Pick up your bag and hang it on the hook.’
  • Help your child learn ‘why’ by explaining things when you’re speaking. For example, ‘We don’t ride bikes on the road because we might get hit by a car’.
  • Give your child lots of specific praise and encouragement. For example, ‘Thanks for finishing the story when it was time to eat lunch’.
  • Make sure your body language and facial expressions match what you’re saying.
Preschoolers take things very literally, and interpret things based on the words they hear. They don’t really understand sarcasm or hidden meanings. So it’s a good idea to be careful about how you say things. This can avoid upsetting preschoolers who think the joke is on them!